Hoping for my home team to lose

Last Friday, the baseball team of my home town Cleveland lost their home opening game for the sixth time in seven years. Good. I am glad. Although there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth among local fans, I was delighted because this is exactly what I wanted. I hope that they continue to lose all their remaining games or, failing that, that they end up with the worst record of all the teams, or failing that, they do not make it into the playoffs. I also hope that their games experience torrential downpours. In other words, I place upon the team the curse of all the atheist gods.

The reason for my hope for failure will be obvious to regular readers. It is because of the team’s racist Chief Wahoo logo that they refuse to get rid of and which fans seem to be inordinately attached to, making up all manner of reasons as to why it is not racist.

Daniel McGraw attended the opening game and witnessed the angry confrontations between racist fans and people who were protesting the logo. He also systematically debunks the revisionist history that the team owners and fans have created to support their non-existent case that the logo is not racist but actually ‘honors’ Native Americans.

Many Native Americans have been averse to most all sports nicknames using tribal names in recent decades – and a good number of colleges and high school have changed them through the years. But professional sports teams like the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and the Chicago Blackhawks have not even come close to considering that option. Their usual explanation is that they are “honoring” Native Americans with their nicknames and mascots, not demeaning them or monetizing their cultures.

The Cleveland Indians have put out that mantra for many years, but recent academic research has made them backpedal a bit. In 1914, the team was known as the Cleveland Naps, in honor of their star player and manager and future Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie. But Lajoie’s contract was sold to the Philadelphia Athletics after that season, and the Cleveland team went searching for a new name. Cleveland sportswriters were delegated to choose a new name and they picked Indians, in part because the Boston Braves had won the 1914 World Series.

But when people in the 1960s started questioning why the team was named after a race of people, the Indians created a revisionist myth of sorts. The story was put out that the team was honoring Louis Sockalexis with the 1915 name change, a member of the Penobscot tribe who played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897 through 1899. He only went to bat 367 times (about half a season for the average full-time position player) in those three years.

So it is highly unlikely that the team was honoring Sockalexis by naming the team ‘Indians’. Further proof is that none of the reports from the four daily newspapers in Cleveland at that time mentioned Sockalexis when the change was made in January 1915. The team no longer says the team name “honors” Sockalexis, but instead the organization is “proud to acknowledge and foster [Sockalexis’] legacy.

Of course, one does not expect the minds of die-hard fans to change, nor the minds of owners who only care about selling merchandise. There is something a little weird about the way they desperately cling on to a racist symbol but it is just another manifestation of the deep-rooted racism that still exists in the US.


  1. says

    Part of the reason teams don’t like to change names because of money. Changing costs money for advertising, merchanding, branding, uniforms, etc. And there are a limited number of names available. Most have been copyrighted, which led to many silly nicknames in recent decades (e.g. Miami “Heat”, Orlando “Magic”, New Orleans “Pelicans”).

    Another nickname with a historical connection to Cleveland and no copyright conflict is Spiders. That was the nickname of the major league team during the late 19th century. It would also be apt for the current Cleveland team to take their history, given that the Spiders hold the MLB record for the most losses in a season, and futility throughout most of their existence.

  2. funknjunk says

    @ left0ver1under — I get your point, but I think about this what I generally think about these types of issues … it’s an opportunity, not a burden. You do a huge, transparent, well-publicized mea culpa … blah, blah, the world is changing and we are changing with it … we heard you and we agree … we acknowledge the deep history if this great nation, blah blah … you use your marketing geniuses to organize events around the creation of a new name and new logo. Create a whole narrative around that. You have a top ten, then a top five, then a top two. You copyright all of those designs. You can sell all of those designs. Use the whole issue for inclusion and camaraderie, and then ultimately the re-launching of a new brand. I honestly do NOT get this stubborn refusal to admit that the logo is a ridiculous racist caricature. They can do the right thing AND make money.

  3. Holms says

    I remember something similar in the Australian tennis scene, when Lleyton Hewitt was the Big Name for a few years. Not because he was racist or anything serious, but because he was a wanker, with frequent on court anger and a memorable comment something like “I think the Australian sports fans are basically stupid” in an interview. The running joke at the time was that if he won you could cheer for Australia, and if he lost you could cheer at his misfortune.

    You have a very nice, rosy view of the potential benefits of a name change, but I would consider what you describe as highly idealised. It would be nice if it came true, but there is another element you have neglected to consider: the feelings and financial input of racist fans. The team name did not arise in isolation, and there are many people that prefer the name to stay as is, and would consider a name change to be something of a capitulation of the team to ‘librul PC police’ or similar. The team leadership likely views a name change as a risky venture, with the potential for many lost fans and hence revenue.

  4. moarscienceplz says

    I don’t really ‘get’ the emotional swooning over sports that lots of people seem to do. Field of Dreams was to me like watching something beamed to Earth from Alpha Centauri. Baseball in particular seems to foster an almost psychopathic clinging to the past. When the Houston Oilers football team moved to Tennessee, it didn’t take too long to rename them the Tennessee Titans, because there isn’t a lot of oil in Tennessee. Yet the Brooklyn Dodgers (named for the kids who would recklessly dodge streetcars) moved to L. A. in 1958, and despite a dearth of streetcars, they are still the Dodgers. Go figure.

  5. sigurd jorsalfar says

    I’m with funknjunk on this one. The hardcore racist fans will remain fans even with a name change. Management just needs to avoid the appearance that they caved to pressure when changing the name, by giving the new name and logo a flashy roll-out a la what funknjunk describes. Go Spiders!

  6. Mano Singham says

    There have been a couple of occasions when a change could have been made ‘naturally’ without seeming to cave to pressure. One was when the new stadium was built and the owners could have claimed that they wanted to make a clean sweep. Another was when the ownership changed hands more recently. Both opportunities were missed.

    My hope is that the team will become known as such pathetic losers that a new owner will say that he wants to start fresh in every area, with a new name, logo, uniforms, etc. that will project a winning image. This is why I want the team to lose every game. Once they win something, it will be harder to change.

  7. sigurd jorsalfar says

    You are of course right Mano. If management themselves are among the hardcore racists and have no intention of changing the name even when a good opportunity shows up, then fuck ’em. With management like that, bankruptcy and new ownership is the only hope of a name change.

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